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Never Too Young to Die (1986)

Directed by Gil Bettman
Charter Entertainment VHS

Full disclosure: John Stamos used to live near my high school. This was during the tail end of Full House, when the show was a carton of chunky milk the network refused to throw out. Stamos lived next to a Gelson’s supermarket that was one of my hangouts, mostly because my friend Elaine really liked their rotisserie chicken. We’d wander the aisles, nibbling on drumsticks, hoping to run into Stamos because obviously he liked the rotisserie chicken too. We never did see him, but we always drove past his place and yelled “Yo, Uncle Jesse!” even though he would never be able to hear us, not past the formidable wall that surrounded his manse. We didn’t even like the show, but we loved that Stamos, who could’ve lived anywhere, decided to live near a Gelson’s in a bland part of the Valley.

My point is that Never Too Young Die is relevant to my interests. And even if you don’t like rotisserie chicken or John Stamos, this movie is relevant to your interests. Pick a year. Any year, past or future. This is one of the best movies of that year. This is a classic. It’s immortal. A flawless gem that’s as blue and clear as Uncle Jesse’s eyes. I have nothing to say about this movie other than that you should flake on your plans and watch it tonight. I don’t care if you’re getting married or going to Pop-pop’s 100th birthday party. Both those things can wait. John Stamos cannot.

A man wearing dramatic eye make-up, cherry red lipstick, and a feather boa addresses a gang of glam punks, which as we know are the most formidable type of punk. He brandishes a long nail on one finger, aka a coke nail.

“My little turdballs, my little scum buckets! I’ve figured out how to access the computer to release radioactive waste into the drinking water!”

His name is Velvet von Ragner—yes, Velvet, like the muzzle of a horse—and he looks just like Gene Simmons because he is Gene Simmons, only with less makeup. But, to be clear, he’s still wearing a lot of makeup.

Full disclosure: I hate KISS. I hate their garbage music and their garbage lyrics and their garbage personalities. I’d rather listen to any of the following other than KISS: ambulance sirens, pigs in the throes of slaughter, someone jogging on an accordion, a Millennial talking about his beard. But, here’s the thing: I love the KISS look. The makeup. The studded capes. The sparkling platform boots. The guitars shooting flames. It’s all great, it really is. I just wish their music wasn’t like unpredictable diarrhea on a Greyhound bus—uncomfortable, unpleasant, inconvenient. Yes, we get it, Gene, your tongue is long, but I’d be more impressed if you just shut the fuck up. But as much as Simmons is an insufferable, talentless, egotistical hobgoblin, he delivers in this movie. In fact, he over-delivers. It’s like ordering a sandwich, but then the server brings you a conquistador platter of everything fried and smothered in cheese, plus a donkey-sized bucket of ice cream and all your best friends.

Velvet von Ragner is a punk hermaphrodite kingpin (you know the kind) with a nefarious plan to extort the city for millions of dollars with the threat of toxic waste. There is only one thing he needs and that is a disk. It is a three-and-a-half inch floppy because this is 1986. The disk has gone missing—no doubt the work of a secret agent, played by George Lazenby, who is perhaps better known as the actor to play James Bond only once. He should really be known for this movie instead, one where he fights off punks by opening an umbrella. Stamos plays his son, Lance Stargrove, a college student on the gymnastics team. I hope you like gymnastics montages.

Young Stargrove uncovers his father’s secret life as a secret agent and must stop Velvet von Ragner and his bandit of junior varisty punks. Luckily his college roommate Cliff is a gadget-crazed genius. He is like James Bond’s Q, only 100% more Asian. He arms our hero with explosive bubble gum and a gun that fires lasers and fire. Stargrove also has the help of his father’s partner, a sexy agent named Danja (rhymes with ganja) played by Vanity (rhymes with sanity).

Soon there’s an endless string of action and mayhem—one part Mad Max, one part Rocky Horror, with a little bit of James Bond and a whole of Gene Simmons. There’s a club called The Incinerator, a punk named Pyramid, a goldfish that turned into a slithering Muppet, a cameo by Robert Englund, unconvincing stunt doubles, and a song where Velvet performs in a pink feather headdress and thigh high boots. He/She croons, “It takes a real man to be a woman.” Then he grinds with an audience member. This movie also comes with a theme song.

In the final showdown, Simmons and Stamos have one of my favorite exchanges in trash action:

“Can’t you see I’m man and woman, I’m both! I’m better than you.”
“But can’t you see, you’re only half of each. I’m all man.”

On one end of genre trash, there are the backyard-DIY films, where some friends have a good time with a bottle of chocolate syrup and a camcorder. These are the movies with ambition and creativity that refuse to be limited by dollars and skill. Then there’s the other end of trash, the films with budgets to pay for explosions and helicopter rentals and celebrities. These are the movies with real producers and cinematographers who are not just made-up names to pad the credits. And yet, there’s still a heavy dose of “What were you thinking?”, with a blind force of ideas that never seem to be questioned. So on one end we have filmmakers who have done so much with so little and on the other end we have filmmakers who have done so little–or much–with so much. Clearly, Never Too Young to Die falls toward the latter side of the spectrum and it is one of my favorites on this end.

But when all is said and done, Never Too Young to Die is about daddy issues.